Teaching the ‘Selfie’ Generation

To reach the “selfie” generation enrolled in my Freshman Seminar class, I have used their tendency toward narcissism to help them discover how they spend their time and what part social media plays in their college experience. Drawing on the work of Nonis, Philhours, and Hudson (2006) that I first read about in an issue of The Teaching Professor, my colleagues and I conducted a research study that focused on time management and social media use (reference below). We modified the time diary that was used by Nonis, Philhours, and Hudson and had our students keep a record of how they spent their time for a seven-day period. Students earned participation points by submitting their completed diaries that we did not grade.

For our study, we collected data over a two-year period and discovered that our students spent 14.35 hours per week texting and talking on their phones, as compared with 12.35 hours spent attending class. That was eye-opening for us, and it has been for students as well. Since completing that study, I have administered the same time diary instrument to students enrolled in the section of Freshman Seminar designated for communication majors. The table below lists the average hours per week spent on each activity, and it compares results from two Freshman Seminar sections with data gathered with colleagues and previously published.

 Activity Average for Class (17 forms returned) (2012) Average for Class (26 forms returned)( 2013) Comparison to Earlier Study (2011)


Attended classes 9.6 11.2 12.35
Internships 0.117 0 0.65
Library usage for study or research 2.8 1.05 1.82
Computer—academic-related 5.9 10.16 4.22
Reading the text/class preparation 2.3 4.7 2.54
Preparing for exam 1.6 4.75 3.13
Homework 3.3 12.8 5.60
Reading magazine/journal articles 1.5 2.77 0.64
Group study 1.3 1.3 0.78
Consulting with course instructors 0.79 0.209 0.34
Talking on the phone 3.6 8.55 6.49
Texting 19.3 47.5 14.35
Email 1.3 1.7 1.58
Facebook (social media) 14.5 23.49 5.43
Face-to-face communication 39.4 74 33.84
Video games 4.1 9.44 1.69
Reading for pleasure 1.3 2.50 1.20
Watching TV 16.4 15.5 10.75
Shopping 1.2 3.34 1.18
Cooking 1.15 .88 1.36
Campus clubs (organizations) 5.2 7.03 1.96

I present these results to the students and use them to encourage a discussion of how they are spending their time and whether that matches with their priorities. Students often mention how they had a hard time completing the time diary because they struggle to distinguish what constitutes “face-to-face” communication from what qualifies as something else. Texting has become such an important part of their lives that they consider it the same as speaking to someone face-to-face.

We also talk about how their scores compare with those in the published studies. We look for trends and try to explain differences. I share information about millennial students, including their preferences for “fast and easy” ways to do things, unrealistic expectations for compensation for their work, reliance on Facebook and Twitter news information sources, use of “selfie” videos, lack of great interpersonal skills, and parents who are often overly protective. Is this true of them? And if so, how might these characteristics impact their experiences in college? Usually I end the discussion by sharing national retention averages, and we talk about how what we’ve learned might influence completion of a college degree.

Getting students to focus on their time management skills often results in more understanding as to why they are succeeding in their course work or why they may be struggling. Simply completing the time diary does not change behavior, but because today’s students are often very self-absorbed, spending some time thinking about what they do with their time can lead to behavioral change. Experts point out that for many students, college is a new and very different experience. It’s a time of transition and one that causes reflection, with beliefs and behaviors subject to change. I’ve found that completing a time diary can be an eye-opening experience for many students.

Hanson, T.L., Drumheller, K.D., Mallard, J., McKee, C., and Schlegel, P. (2011). Cell phones, text messaging, and Facebook: Competing time demands of today’s college students. College Teaching, 59 (1), 23-30.

Nonis, S.A., Philhours, M.G., and Hudson, G.I. (2006). Where does the time go? A diary approach to business and marketing students’ time use. Journal of Marketing Education, 28 (2), 121-134.

Contact Trudy L. Hanson at thanson@mail.wtamu.edu.

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